Simon Gerrans won the stage, but the people of the Barossa were also winners as the Tour Down Under returned cheer to the streets of this beautiful wine region. After enduring a week of extreme temperatures and battling several bushfires that continue to threaten a number of nearby towns, today was the perfect tonic to return smiles to the locals’ faces.
Though the riders were cheered at many vantage points around the course, the real heroes in these parts were the CFS volunteers who have been working around the clock to fight the bushfires during the past week. Many businesses offered free drinks or food to those brave volunteers; just one small way of thanking them for their efforts.
After the mercury hit 46 degrees in this region last week, there must have been much relief when a forecasted high of 29 was predicted, and it turned out to be a glorious day, warm but still mild enough that you can stand in the sun while waiting to see the action.
Local shops were doing a roaring trade as the towns visited by Stage 1 were awash with lycra clad spectators. Wineries held formal lunches or opened up their lawns for picnics, there were couches on the side of the road, plenty of picnics roadside and even a few ute tray parties as locals and visitors alike celebrated the start of the 2014 Tour Down Under.
There were plenty of yellow and blue Bupa jerseys out amongst the crowd, with the brave souls who’ve entered the Bupa Challenge, to be held this Friday, proudly wearing their freshly received jerseys for all to see.
The thing that strikes you about this Tour is just how accessible it really is. The start in Nuriootpa was well attended, but there were still plenty of places where you could be standing within metres of some of the top athletes in the world. The pros were happy to sign autographs or have a chat with the fans despite being so close to the start time. Jimmy Jacques presented some of the riders to the crowd as they signed on, and there was a palpable sense of anticipation with the start of this year’s event not far away.
Out on the course, it was a real mix of families, cycling groups and friends, with the towns all well populated, Angaston busier than most as people lined the barriers long before the riders arrived for the sprint finish.
The big screen near the finish line was the most popular spot for keen followers to be able to keep an eye on the action unfolding out on the course. The noise was deafening as Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEDGE) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) sprinted to the line, and a huge roar greeted the news that the Australian Gerrans had won the opening stage.
Gerrans was as surprised as anyone that he managed to beat Greipel in a sprint finish, saying “André is one of the fastest sprinters around so I’m pretty pleased to get him over the line. It was a tough final and everyone was tired coming into the finish. I thought that might have taken the sting out of his legs a little bit. I left my sprint really late because of the head wind. “
He also suggested it might have been wise to let the German take the stage so his Lotto Belisol team would assist in defending the jersey, but with the overall win firmly in his sight the time bonus for the win made it worthwhile.
Greipel wasn’t too disappointed at missing out on yet another Tour Down Under stage win (he already has a record 13 stage wins here), the big German stating that “it was very hard today, and I am no climber. I tried to go up as fast as possible, so it’s a good sign that the condition is there.”
Tomorrow’s Stage 2 from Prospect to Stirling sees the Tour return to the Adelaide Hills, and you can be sure that the crowds will be out in force again, with the Stirling finish always a popular place to catch some of the action.